Prof. Fred revels in the marvel of movies so bad, they're good

Sep 11, 2011

Can something be so terrible it’s actually good? Professor Fred Hopkins thinks so.

By day, Hopkins is a lawyer who helps people get out of paying big fines for traffic infractions. But in his spare time he is the enthusiastic host of Movie Marvels, a show that runs once a week on Seattle’s Community College TV channel.

'Schlock cinema' TV

Fred and his zombie like sidekick Igor delve into the golden age of “schlock cinema” from the 1950’s and 60’s, also known as “B” movies. It’s a world made up of 50-foot tall women, flying saucers, monsters and shoestring budgets.

Every Friday night at 9 o’clock people of all ages, in Seattle and more than a dozen other cities across the country, gather around the television to watch a man in a cap and gown costume introduce a really bad movie from 50 years ago.

And, you think, ‘Why would I want to watch this old black and white low budget stinker?’ Well, you get sucked in because Professor Fred makes it interesting.

His long intros are peppered with facts about the actors and directors. He even gives a quiz.

Movies such as Attack From Space, Wasp Woman and Ed Wood’s Plan Nine From Outer Space are so loved by Hopkins because they are what he watched when he was a kid and because they dare to go places a mainstream film would never touch.

“I think they have a ring of truth like Glen or Glenda Ed Wood’s second most famous movie and one of the highest grossing independent films of all time. In 1952, when that was written, Wood was suggesting that transvestites and people who want to dress in cloths of the opposite sex should be able to join bowling leagues in middle America. The whole idea of anyone able to deal with cross-dressing in 1952 was just amazing. And he’s unhampered by commercial restraints. He’s not going to make any money. There’s a fascination of seeing an artistic product that’s unencumbered by the Hollywood commercialism.”

Forced simplicity

The lack of access to deep Hollywood pockets forced a lot  of these films to get creative with special effects, or the lack there of.

Igor, Hopkins’ side-kick on the show, who also goes by the name Dean Cocoa, appreciates the forced simplicity of these low grade movies.

“Like Little Shop of Horrors, I think that is a great example of doing so much with so little. The little 'feed me' makes the movie.”

For Cuccia, less is more.

“It’s like with Alfred Hitchcock, which is kind of related to these movies in the sense that there is the horror aspect. But the fact that you don’t always see what’s the most important part of the movie, you know some thing's back there. But it works.”

Made for TV

A number of famous movie stars got their start in these movies. Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Clint Eastwood and even George Clooney had roles in low grade films.

You can usually watch one episode of Movie Marvels online, that’s all that’s available. For the full experience you have to commit some time to sitting in front of the television. The shows runs several times on SCCTV, but its  biggest draw is Friday nights at 9 o’clock.

For those who can’t get enough of this genera, you know who you are, Professor Fred Hopkins teaches a class at North Seattle Community College called Schlock Cinema 101. It has many repeat students.

Artscape” is a weekly KPLU feature covering Northwest art, performances and artists. The feature is published here on Sundays and airs on KPLU 88.5 on Monday during Morning Edition, All Things Considered and on Weekend Saturday Edition.